Yesterday I gave a general review. Today I have designated Spoiler Day, where I will show no compunction in giving away plot details.
One of the best characters in The Skin Map is the villain, Lord Burleigh. He’s a smooth villain – intellectual, polished, handsome, entirely willing to work with those who will work with him, and entirely willing to kill those who won’t. After the great explorer who made the Skin Map, he is the most adept traveler of the multiverse. He follows said explorer to old China, ambushes our heroes in modern Egypt, does business in early twentieth century Egypt, and appears in seventeenth century Prague. This ubiquity makes him mysterious. What reality he actually belongs to is impossible to say; he shows up in so many of them, getting something he wants.
Another favorite character of mine is Wilhelmina Klug. Cosimo Livingstone, explaining to his great-grandson how pathetic his life was, said, “You are exceedingly unlucky in love, having invested years in a romantic relationship which, as you know only too well, is neither romantic nor much of a rleationship. In short, you have all the soical prospects of a garden gnome.”
A couple chapters later we get to see the unfortunate couple, as the author calls them, together. Lawhead does an excellent job of introducing Wilhelmina. Her flat is as “clean as a dental hygienists’s treatment room and nearly as cold”. She is “a dead ringer for the undertaker’s anemic daughter”, “dressed in black slacks and a black turtleneck” with a “horrible, ratty, hand-knitted purple scarf”. Her hair is “aggressively short”, and her job as a baker starting work at 4 a.m. keeps her in a state of perpetual tiredness, perpetual yawning.
So we understand when Kit thinks she isn’t much of a catch. But it’s no surprise to discover that Wilhelmina doesn’t think he’s much of a catch, either. When Kit unintentionally lost her in the multiverse, she ended up alone in a bleak, rainy countryside in Bohemia. (He, by contrast, ended up in an old version of London with his great-grandfather.) Naturally she decided it was all his fault and resolved: He’s toast. I’ll murder him in tiny little pieces. But she sruvived and, in time, thrived.
Meanwhile, Kit’s adventures brought him into collusion with a beautiful woman. There is quite the contrast between Wilhelmina’s introduction and Lady Fayth’s. Gone are all references to undertakers and their daughters: “All [Kit] knew was that he was in the presence of a rare vision of loveliness, a goddess, a transcendentally radiant creature who he was wholly unworthy to address.”
To quote a good line from a not-so-good movie: “All he saw was a pretty face, like a fool.” First Kit followed Lady Fayth into an ill-advised adventure, and then he watched her walk away with Burleigh. And after Lady Fayth led him into deep trouble, Wilhelmina led him out of it. (She gave up her plans of murdering Kit into tiny pieces.) I at least found a great deal of satisfaction in this.
Incidentally, beautiful villains and beautiful heroes are both quite common. It’s the poor secondary characters who go unpraised (unless physical beauty is vital to their function, e.g. a beautiful co-worker who makes the heroine insecure). Minor characters are not, I suppose, worth the investment of writing space, or the attention extolling their looks would bring.